Who invented the moving picture? Thomas Edison and Auguste and Louis Lumière are frequently cited as pioneers of cinematography, but an inventor who gets far less press is Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince (1841-1890?). Le Prince’s father happened to be a friend of Louis Daguerre, and Le Prince learned about the chemistry and technology of photography at an early age. He eventually moved from Metz in France to Leeds, UK, where he joined a brass foundry firm, married, and founded a technical school of art with his wife.
Le Prince eventually moved on from the foundry firm and began working on motion pictures. He registered for an American patent on a method and apparatus “For Producing Animated Pictures of Natural Scenery and Life” in 1886, and the patent was eventually granted. In 1888, he filmed the “Roundhay Garden Scene,” the oldest surviving film:
In 1890, Le Prince and his wife Lizzie were ready to take the project public. They planned to exhibit the moving pictures in New York’s Jumel Mansion, but something strange happened before they got a chance. In September, 1890, Le Prince boarded a train from Bourges, France, to Dijon and was never seen again.
There are numerous theories as to why Le Prince disappeared. Perhaps he committed suicide to escape his debts. Perhaps he was murdered by rivals. Whatever happened, no body has been conclusively identified, and the mystery remains.